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15.03.2021 / News /

PRESS RELEASE: Prestigious South London school La Retraite to be rocked by “longest school cleaners strike in UK history” after headteacher on over £110K per year denies key workers full pay sick pay

  • La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School will be at the centre of the longest school cleaners strike in UK history as key workers walk out on over the school’s refusal to pay the cleaners full pay sick pay
  • The school has been embroiled in what the workers’ union United Voices of the World (UVW) says is a “public scandal” after its contractor “stole a months worth of wages” with support from the school to do so after cleaners “were left with no choice but to walk out” due to Covid health and safety fears
  • Negotiations between UVW and the school and its contractor saw agreement reached to repay most of the wages from the Covid-19 safety walked out and pay the cleaners the London Living Wage up from the minimum wage, but negotiations broke down at the 11th hour after refusing to meet the workers’ demands for full pay sick pay in parity with employees of the school, something UVW officials state is a “red-line” 
  • The strike will begin on March 16 and is set to last for 40 days in symbolic reference to Lent

La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School in Clapham, South London, is set to be hit by what trade union United Voices of the World (UVW) has called the “longest school cleaners strike in UK history” and the first strike in the school’s 140 year history. 

The strike comes after Dominic Malins, the Headtacher of La Retraite on a salary of over £110K, refused to meet the cleaners’ demands for full pay sick pay in a final round of negotiations with UVW despite what UVW calls the “nominal cost” of paying it. 

The prestigious Catholic school has been embroiled in what UVW has described as a “public scandal” after dozens of cleaners refused to attend work in January when the school’s contractor failed to carry out a risk assessment leaving the cleaners, many of whom contracted Covid-19, to fear for their safety and refuse to work under section 44 Employment Rights Act 1996. 

The cleaners’ health and safety demands were finally addressed after the 30 day walk out, however the dispute escalated when the cleaners wages were withheld, leaving the workers, who already live on the breadline, to consider the use of food banks and loans to survive. 

Speaking in response to the breakdown in negotiations, Petros Elia, UVW Co-Founder and Organiser, said the following: “La Retraite’s refusal to pay the cleaners the same sick pay scheme that all other staff of La Retraite receive is immoral and a major health and safety concern for the school for without full pay sick pay the cleaners will not be able to afford to take sick leave which means they may feel they’ve got no choice but work even if they could be carrying Covid.”

Petros went on to say that, “As all the cleaners are migrant workers mainly from Latin America the school’s policy to deny them the same sick pay as La Retriate’s mainly White staff amounts to indirect race discrimination and instutional racism in our view which we will be taking La Retraite to court over. La Retraite has also failed to comply with its Public Sector Equality Duty which we will report to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and which we expect will trigger an investigation into the school’s practices.

UVW has also confirmed that it will bring a judicial review against La Retraite’s decision to deny the cleaners full pay sick pay. 

Petros explains that, “As a public body La Retraite cannot make decisions which are “irrational” according to the public law test public bodies are bound by. As the decision to deny the cleaners full pay sick pay is so clearly irrational we will be bringing a judicial review against La Retraite which we believe can and should lead to a court order for them to overturn their decision.  

Petros confirms that, “The school has offered a minor increase in the cleaners’ sick pay scheme but that the offer is still well short of what teachers get. Therefore the school is choosing to bring about a 40 day strike and risk years of costly litigation all for the shameless sake of trying to save a few pennies off the backs of the cleaners who they clearly hold so cuh contempt and prejudice towards. Our members have been more than reasonable in making compromises elsewhere to try and avoid this strike, but sick pay is a red line for our members. The strike will go on and on and on for as long as it takes for La Retraite to do the right thing.”

Magaly Quesada, one of the cleaners set to go on strike, said the following, “I feel annoyed, I feel frustrated and I feel inferior, because I do not understand why it is considered acceptable to deny someone full pay sick pay – partially in the middle of a pandemic – just because they work part time or work as a cleaner. I simply do not understand it. We are all human, so we deserve to be treated equally.

She went on to say, “None of us wanted to strike, but La Retraite has left us with no choice. We hope they see sense and stop their hypocrisy of on the one hand saying they are a Catholic school who live by the Catholic ethos of treating everyone justly and as equals like Jesus did” and then on the other hand treating us cleaners like we’re second class – or like the dirt we clean. We’re cleaners, we’re key workers and we’re proud and we will not stop fighting until we are treated with respect, dignity and equality.”

###

Editors notes

For further information and comment please contact:

Petros Elia, petros@uvwunioon.org.uk 07884 553443

Kane Shaw, kane@uvwunion.org.uk 07749 765264

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